1. The Gemara (Nidah 17) cites an extremely strong statement by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He states that one who eats a peeled onion, egg or garlic that has been left sitting out overnight is literally endangering his life, and will be ultimately judged as a person who took his own life.1 The cause of this prohibition is a “ruach ra’ah,” a type of ‘spirit of impurity’ or spiritual contamination that rests upon these three foods when peeled and left overnight.
2. Astoundingly, there is absolutely no mention of this proscription in any of the works of the the Rambam, Rif, Tur, nor Shulchan Aruch. Yet, many later authorities, including the Pri Chadash (Y.D. 116:9), Shulchan Aruch HaRav(Shmeiras Haguf 7), Chida (Birkei Yosef Y.D. 116:10), Ben Ish Chai (Year 2 Pinchas 14), Chofetz Chaim (Likutei Halachos note 9) and Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 116:22), all do cite the Gemara’s statement, and consequently rule that eating a peeled egg, onion or garlic that sat overnight is strictly forbidden.
3. The assumption amongst the poskim is that this danger of “ruach ra’ah” is a spiritual danger and not a danger that a doctor would warn against. (see Shevet Halevi 3:169)
4. According to most authorities if the food was left overnight (b’dieved) it must be discarded. (Chida ibid. and Shemiras Haguf V’nefesh 3:6. See also Minchas Yitzchak 9:28)
Does This Halacha Still Apply?
5. The aforementioned poskim (Pri Chadash, Shulchan Aruch Harav etc.) who cite this halacha as normative, clearly feel that this halacha is in full effect today. However some wish to explain that the reason that the Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch do not cite this ruling is because they feel that this ‘ruach ra’ah’ is no longer applicable. (See Shevet Halevi 6:111:5, Pri Hasadeh 2:61, Beis Meir 19, Yaskil Avdi 7:44. See also Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:20)
6. This is not a new debate, but rather one between the rishonim. Maharam M’Rottenberg, cited by the Mordechai (Shabbos Chapter 8), writes, “Regarding your question why we are lenient with peeled eggs and we do not concern ourselves with the “ruach ra’ah” stated in the Gemara. Perhaps the “ruach ra’ah” is no longer applicable.” [Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer Y.D. 2:7) explains that although the Maharam prefaced his heter with the word “perhaps”, one should not misconstrue this for uncertainty on his part. Rather, this is a terminology that many poskim use out of modesty.]
It seems that this is also the view of the Maharshal (Chullin Yam Shel Shlomo 8:12). The Maharshal discusses different concepts found in the Gemara dealing with medicinal issues and whether they still apply today. In his discussion he writes, “Many times the Gemara will warn against a certain action because of ‘ruach ra’ah’, however, none of these concerns still apply today.” Indeed, the Sefer Zivchei Tzedek (vol.2 116:61) explains that the reason why many are lenient regarding these halachos (onions, eggs or garlic) is because they are relying on the view of the Maharshal that “ruach ra’ah” no longer applies. Harav Yitzchak Weiss zt”l (Minchas Yitzchak 2:68:13 and 6:64) also writes that although one should be machmir, those who wish to rule leniently have legitimate basis to do so.[In the May 2005 edition of The Daf Hakashrus (“A Monthly Newsletter For The Orthodox Union Rabbinic Field Representative”), Rabbi David Cohen discusses this issue and he writes, “Rav Belsky ruled that we should follow this second (stricter) opinion, while Rav Schachter is of the opinion that in the United States it is generally accepted to follow the first (lenient) opinion. Nonetheless, Rabbi Schachter agrees that we should not allow OU certified caterers or restaurants to leave peeled eggs etc. overnight since undoubtedly there will be customers who are machmir and we must serve them as well.”]
However, it should be noted that the prohibition is mentioned by several other Rishonim including Tosafos (Shabbos 141 and Beitzah 14), Rosh (Beitzah 14), the Sma”k (171), and Trumas HaDeshen (cited in Leket Yosher Y.D. page 6). They obviously feel that the concern of “ruach ra’ah” still applies today. And as noted above most later authorities also cite this Gemara as normative halacha. This seems to be the common custom and should be strictly adhered to. The poskim do, however, take the lenient view into consideration and allow for some leniency in certain questionable situations, as we shall discuss later on in this chapter.
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